As you read this, downtown San Jose is in the throngs of a new enterprise called Left Coast Live. This is, perhaps, the purest example of what happens when a bunch of people, instead of sitting around and complaining, actually stand up and do something.
The entire scenario is exciting for several reasons. The timing rocks, especially since San Jose just passed up the 1 million mark and still doesn’t have a reasonable nightlife comparable to other cities with half its population.
Also, because of another enterprise called San Jose Rocks, there is an ever-growing interest in local rock history from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and according to local legend Gordon Stevens, there was a serious, equally important, Latin scene out on the East Side during the ‘60s as well—something hardly anyone talks about or even remembers.
Furthermore, festivals are something San Jose usually does well, especially the Jazz Festival, which just a few years ago began incorporating a club crawl so attendees could check out some live bands in the clubs, as opposed to immediately returning back home after the day’s events.
Lastly, many people from my era who grew up driving to San Francisco or the East Bay to see shows, since there was absolutely nothing to do in San Jose for those under 21 until the Cactus Club opened. Remember how bloody fun it was when that club, along with Marsugi’s, Ajax and F/X, started a live-music scene on South First Street? You had businessmen in suits hanging out right next to people with Mohawks.
The folks behind Left Coast Live keep using phrases like “Bring live music back to San Jose” or “Rebirth live music in San Jose,” so they definitely know that live music at least used to be on a lot of people’s radar. With luck, such a mind-set will return, and someday we might actually see club owners who want to contribute to the cultural landscape and/or landlords who actually care about the community rather than knowingly renting to troublesome clubs just to make a quick buck.
But getting back to the concept of a Latin scene in the ‘60s, last week a press conference was held for the San Jose Mariachi and Mexican Heritage Festival. It took place in the Fairmont. Linda Ronstadt still holds court as the festival’s artistic director, and for this year’s incarnation, she brought in Carlos Santana, who will perform in a huge tribute gig for Cesar Chavez this coming Sept. 20–27, so he himself actually showed up to the press conference and had quite a bit of inspiring and provocative things to say.
When asked how or why he originally migrated from mariachi to rock music, he said that when attending a picnic in San Jose in 1962, he heard mariachi music coming from one part of the landscape and rock music from another part. “When taking in the aerial view, I just grabbed all of it,” he recalled. He added that San Jose has the capacity for being grand central for Latin rock & roll, and that “We should celebrate Cesar Chavez day nationally, not just in California.”
And this one: “Everybody is born an angel with wings of imagination and willingness. Some people may even be chickens or turkeys—especially if you wake up automatically thinking someone’s going to mess with you. I choose to wake up, and wake everyone up with vibration and sound.”
Santana then went on to repeatedly bash Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, calling them the “exterminators of education, while referring to Ronstadt and himself as the “weapons of mass compassion.”
Finally, he philosophized that for musicians, the goal is to be eternally relevant. “Someone can be ahead of his time, but a month later, he could be passé,” said Santana. “I invite all musicians to wake up and be eternally relevant.”